By Joe Gorman
A visiting judge Thursday dispensed with several motions for one defendant in a capital-murder case, while continuing an evidence-suppression hearing for the other in the 2010 case of a slain real-estate agent.
Judge Lee Sinclair agreed to a defense request to move a suppression hearing that was slated for Thursday for 25-year-old Grant Cooper to July 31 because a witness defense attorneys needed was not available Thursday.
The judge said that will not affect the timetable to bring the case to trial. Jury selection in his case was pushed back from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24.
Judge Sinclair also ruled against defense motions to dismiss death-penalty specifications against co-defendant Robert Brooks, 29, and to change the venue of the trial.
Brooks and Cooper each face the death penalty if convicted in the Sept. 20, 2010, death of 67-year-old Vivian Martin.
Police say Martin was lured to a home she was trying to sell in the 3100 block of Nelson Avenue by Brooks and Cooper, who then killed her and set the house on fire to cover up the crime.
Judge Sinclair, a retired Stark County Common Pleas Court judge, was appointed by the state Supreme Court after Judge James Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court recused himself from the case June 9 because of his impending Sept. 1 retirement.
Brooks and Cooper were arraigned on charges in Martin’s death Oct. 13, 2010, but the case has yet to come to trial.
Brooks’ trial date has been set for Sept. 22.
For Cooper’s case, lead investigators Detective Sgts. John Patton and Pat Kelly were in court, but Judge Sinclair agreed to the defense request for a continuance. Defense lawyer Tom Zena, one of Cooper’s attorneys, also stressed that the continuance would not push the trial date back.
Defense attorneys are looking to suppress Cooper’s statements to police.
As for Brooks, defense attorneys had asked that the death-penalty specifications be dismissed because their client has mental-health issues, but Judge Sinclair denied the request.
Defense attorneys also asked for a change of venue for the trial, saying that the case has generated much publicity in the local media that could cause jurors to form opinions that would affect their client’s chance at a fair trial.
Judge Sinclair said he had seen no evidence of any of the stories having a negative impact on the case, and he denied their request, although he did say that he would allow defense attorneys to raise the issue again during jury selection should they encounter difficulty finding enough jurors to serve on the case.
“We will know [publicity’s effect] once we start talking to the citizens of this county,” Judge Sinclair said.
Other pending motions in Cooper’s case also will be heard July 31.
Cooper will have another pretrial hearing at 1 p.m. Aug. 13.